9.6.5.6  Think about whether the characteristic is closely related to another characteristic (confounded)

The problem of ‘confounding’ complicates interpretation of subgroup analyses and meta-regressions and can lead to incorrect conclusions. Two characteristics are confounded if their influences on the intervention effect cannot be disentangled. For example, if those studies implementing an intensive version of a therapy happened to be the studies that involved patients with more severe disease, then one cannot tell which aspect is the cause of any difference in effect estimates between these studies and others. In meta-regression, co-linearity between potential effect modifiers leads to similar difficulties as is discussed by Berlin and Antman (Berlin 1994). Computing correlations between study characteristics will give some information about which study characteristics may be confounded with each other.